Epistemology and Economics (Synthese Conference, Columbia U.)
Markets and Dignity

Buying expedited screening at airports

Jonathan B. Wight

Should everything be for sale?  I just printed boarding passes for a flight and the airline asked me if I wanted to pay $19 to go around the line of people waiting to get screened.

I’ve seen this practice before at privately-owned theme parks, where you can buy a premier pass to avoid long lines. But the case of airport security seems quite different.  For one thing, airports are heavily subsidized by governments.  More importantly, national security requires that everyone “chip in” to fight terrorism—one way we chip in is with our time waiting in line.  If elites can by-pass the line, the general public pays more in terms of their own wait times. 

In times of emergency, society may choose to allocate goods in a way that promotes objectives other than efficiency (efficiency=satisfying preferences of consumers with cash).  The key issue might be: who gets the extra $19?  Is it the airline or is it TSA?  Does the answer to this question help understand the ethics of it? 

My gut feeling is that if TSA gets the funds and uses them to upgrade facilities, this would be a good trade-off for me and for most people.  But I don’t like creating a two-tier society of “have’s” and “have’s-not’s” in the public security sphere—because that is a slippery slope.  Why not allow some people to pay for expedited justice (why wait 10 months for a trial when you can buy premier handling!). 

There's a certain point at which a rights-based approach makes more sense for long-run social stability.  Any thoughts?


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I don't think the issue of who gets the $19 is important at all--it's the other point you mention, which is the implication of this policy that (with all due apologies to George Orwell) everyone is equally subject to screening, but some are more equally subject than others (namely those who can afford to buy out of it).

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